She was intrigued by the sign on the door.
The shop looked there and not there; it had no outward personality, as did the other shops in the unusual mall. Outside the door was a rack of short kimonos, looking somewhat hanger-worn. A hand-made sign read, “Kimonos: 50% off.” A glance in the window showed an odd assortment of artifacts: tea pots, mats, statuettes. They all sort of blended together to create a quite unremarkable impression. It was not possible to see into the shop from the window; there was a wall of fabric or a curtain of some sort blocking off any view to the inside. Trying to decide what type of shop it was, and whether it was worth the investment of her time to enter it, she scanned the façade again. It would be a few minutes before her daughter was finished at the shop across the way. A printed flyer on the door caught her eye. It said, “Tea Times.” She could not read the finer print. She wondered if the shop were a tea house of some sort. Venturing a little closer to the entry, she peered in. She could see tea mats, teapots, cups, trinkets. Little iron animal figurines. Her curiosity got the better of her and she entered the shop. Once inside, she noticed a young lady behind the counter intent in conversation with a young man. They were speaking Japanese. She looked around to the back of the shop. No serving tables in sight; it was just a store. As she progressed farther into the interior, she took in the very different feel of the place: everything appeared very authentic and of high quality. This was not a cheap souvenir store. There were wooden tea chests of all sizes, delicately crafted of thin wood, with elegant drawers, and some with mini shoji screens that slid open and closed. There were many different styles of tea pots and tea sets made of porcelain and painted in all different colors and patterns. There were cylindrical tea-jars with lids, made of bamboo, finely pieced together. In the back sat a large, flat table, piled with stacks of very large, individually screen-printed handmade paper. She leafed through a few of them, admiring the craftwork and patterns. Then she turned and saw a whole table covered with squares of ornately printed cotton fabric from Japan. The squares were carefully folded and wrapped in cellophane envelopes.
As she was admiring them, she glanced again at the two who were conversing. It occurred to her that neither of them had greeted her when she entered, which put her slightly ill at ease, heightening her feeling of foreignness. She could have been in a small town in Japan, she told herself, and have wandered into this shop from the street. She didn’t know the language, but she was in love with the careful hand-crafting of everything she saw. She wanted to buy a tea chest.
She looked again at the conversers. This time she noticed that the woman was young. Then she got a look at the man. He was in his early thirties, tall, slim and muscular. His long black hair was tied in the back. There was something so beautiful about him that she found herself in shock. He had not stopped his conversation, nor had he even looked in her direction. There was just something so irresistible about this place and this instant that she felt an undeniable impulse to buy something in order to take a piece of this moment back with her. She felt giddy and devious. The impending encounter and the ensuing transaction were a surreal test that she had chosen to undergo; like Odysseus encountering the alluring and cunning Circe. “Go ahead and pick the most beautiful one you can find,” a voice in her head told her. She settled on a deep maroon fabric bedecked with multicolored and gilded chrysanthemums. How pretty it would look wrapped around a gift for a deserving friend, she thought.
She approached the counter. The young pair had finished their conversation, and the girl was waiting on a man. The gorgeous creature behind the counter smiled and said hello in English. She was past the stage of blushing, but found herself awkward in the moment. She presented her purchase to the man, who told her the price in perfect diction, with an unmistakable accent. She took in the full extent of his being. To her, he was the archetype of male beauty. There was a grace and an earthiness that coexisted in his relaxed posture, his toned musculature, and his kind face. “Arigato,” she managed, as he bagged her purchase. “Arigato gozai mashita,” he reflexively responded, making an equally natural and graceful bow. Feeling the full impact of his refinement made her feel stilted and unmannered. “Thank you,” she said, and tried to maintain her composure as she exited the shop.
As she went back out into the mall, waiting for her daughter, she smiled inwardly, relishing the moment that had just passed, knowing it would stay with her for quite a while.